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Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
String Quartet No. 1 in G major, Op. 44 (1891) [29:33]
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 45 (1891) [26:41]
String Quartet No. 6 in A minor, Op. 122 (1910) [22:45]
Dante Quartet
rec. 2019, St Nicholas Parish Church, Thames Ditton, UK

Previously, the Dante Quartet has focused on Stanford’s later quartets before now returning to the first two, recorded memorably by the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet on Hyperion a number of years ago [CDA67434 but reissued on Helios CDH55459]. They have added the considerable bait of his previously unrecorded Sixth Quartet.

This second studio recording of the First Quartet offers a slight recalibration of approach. The RTÉ Vanbrugh stresses the first movement’s classicism rather more overtly than the Dante, who prefer to streamline it somewhat, to absorb it into the work’s very voluble and rather pluralistic line. Hence there is copious lyricism in the opening movement, then a cleverly varied Scherzo, the long-breathed beauty of the slow movement and a folk-like Gigue to conclude the musical argument. Given their church acoustic, the Dante plays with sonorous verve and eloquence. Composed the same year (1891) the Second Quartet, reveals Stanford’s contrapuntal strengths as much as his easy-going thematic writing – the second theme of the first movement is a classic case in point - and the Dante’s clear enjoyment of the writing. They take this opening movement at a significantly faster tempo than their colleagues in the RTÉ Vanbrugh though with no obvious loss in flexibility of expression. If I single out first violinist Krysia Osostowicz for her playing in the occasionally turbulent and unstable slow movement, it’s really only to draw attention to the many instrumental and collective felicities of this reading as a whole. And that’s certainly the case in in the crisp rhythmic impetus coursing through the very Dvořák-inspired finale.

The Sixth Quartet dates from 1910 and is heard in an edition prepared by Jeremy Dibble. It’s in three movements. The first is gutsy, with an unsettled quality almost throughout, driving ever onwards, at least until it slows reflectively towards the end. The light elements of the slow movement enshrine strong contrasts before Stanford launches the crisp and crunchy Allegro Scherzando that ends the work. Here’s there’s a delightful dance section and some contrapuntal vitality – shades of the opening movement of Quartet No.2 – to ensure a maximum quotient of excitement.

Jeremy Dibble writes the customarily authoritative booklet notes, as he did for the Hyperion release. The cycle of Stanford’s Quartets has now been completed in excellent style.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: John Quinn

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